File picture: Philimon Bulawayo
JOHANNESBURG - The rand firmed yesterday, supported by a weaker dollar and data showing the country recorded a trade surplus for the ninth consecutive month in October.

Stocks were lower as bourse heavyweight Naspers weighed.

At 5pm, the rand bid at R13.5647 to the dollar, 15.39c stronger than at the same time on Wednesday.

The currency has been volatile over the past month, slumping to its weakest level in 12 months against the dollar in late October following a gloomy budget speech that revealed a gaping revenue gap and public debt soaring to 60percent of gross domestic product.

But the currency has recovered in the past week on renewed hopes of economic reform despite a decision last Friday by S&P Global Ratings to push the country’s debt deeper into “junk”.

The revenue service said yesterday South Africa’s trade surplus widened to R4.56billion in October, thanks to a weaker rand and subdued demand for imports.

“Export growth continues to be supported by a moderate recovery in South Africa’s major trading partners as well as higher commodity prices, whereas the sluggish local economy is still keeping a lid on import growth,” said Elize Kruger, at NKC African Economics.

“Both developments favourably impact on the trade balance, the current account balance and subsequently, also provide support for the rand exchange rate.”

In fixed income, the yield for the benchmark government bond due in 2026 was up 3 basis points to 9.32percent.

On the stock market, the benchmark JSE Top40 index was down 1.27percent at 53269.83 points, while the broader all share index retreated 1.07percent to end the session at 59772.83 points.

Naspers, which owns a third of China’s Tencent, retreated 3.18percent to R3687.71.

Naspers shares have doubled this year as the value of Tencent soared - the stock mostly follows the movements of its Chinese investment, which was down more than 3 percent on the day.

Private hospital group Mediclinic was the biggest gainer among the blue chips after investment banking firm Jefferies upgraded the company to “buy” from “underperform”.

Shares in Mediclinic advanced 2.6percent to R101.06.